Christians go to Prayer
Peter and John had had a serious run-in with the authorities. The leaders of the Jewish nation didn’t like Jesus of Nazareth. They thought they had finished with him when they had convinced Pilate to crucify him but they were discovering that it just wasn’t that easy. The tomb where Jesus’ corpse had been laid was found to be empty on the third day and they couldn’t stop talk of resurrection from circulating however hard they tried.
And now some of his followers were openly speaking about him in the Temple! It was impossible! They must take steps to stamp out all this talk about Jesus.
So Peter and John had been arrested and kept in prison overnight. Now they must be warned not to speak about Jesus again. Woe betide them if they continued – something worse would happen to them if they paid no attention to what their leaders were telling them not to do.
If the truth be told these leaders would have gone still further at that time in their efforts to suppress all preaching about Jesus but they weren’t able to treat Peter and John as harshly as they wanted to. The reason was popular opinion. Such opinion is fickle and can quickly change but for the moment it was on the side of the apostles for the crowd believed God had worked a miracle through them and they praised God for it. In such circumstances the leaders of the people could do no more than mutter their threats as they were obliged to let Peter and John go.
This morning we’re going to see what happened next. What did Peter and John do upon being released? What would be the outcome of it all?
Now not so long ago the apostles had done all they could to hide away from the Jewish authorities. Fearful of arrest they kept a low profile not wanting to draw any attention to themselves. Were they going to act that way again? After all the threats that they had received were in no way idle ones, the authorities were deadly serious in their desire to snuff out this emerging sect of Jesus fanatics.
Well these two disciples didn’t seek out a safe house but went to where they knew they would find their own company. As the numbers of Christians grew steadily larger the authorities probably had a good idea as to where many of them would be found. But Peter and John wanted to be with their own, their friends, their brothers and sisters, and so they sought out the people to whom they belonged. They were spiritually committed to this group of people and this wider group was spiritually committed to them in the growing fellowship of the church.
Peter and John’s first reaction was not to seek their own comfort or even their own safety but the fellowship of fellow believers. They wanted to be with others who followed Jesus and they wanted to share with them just what had been going on and to pass on what the authorities had said to them. Peter and John were not loose cannons, firing randomly and intermittently, they were part of a believing community and they wanted to be with their own.
How good it is to belong! How good it is to have genuine spiritually-minded friends! How good it is to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ and to participate fully in the life of that church!
Of course it is possible to attend a few gatherings of the church without really becoming engaged with and committed to the body of believers who constitute the church. But Peter and John were not like that and nor were the friends they sought out for as we will see the friends they went to weren’t content merely to listen to what the apostles had to say to them, they would soon be responding in fervent prayer.
Let me ask you: Do you have this type of relationship with others in the church? Do you view the other members of the congregation as your friends? Are you a friend to them?
Well as soon as Peter and John were released they went to their church friends and gave them a full report. The church turned at once to prayer – for that is what the phrase: “they lifted their voices together to God” means.
It is a good thing to have friends to talk to and an even better thing to have friends who are ready and willing to turn to serious prayer with you.
Do you have such friends? Do you want to have such friends? Are you willing to be this sort of friend for others?
A People at Prayer
The news that the apostle’s shared was not particularly encouraging was it? They told of an overnight stay in prison; they told of instructions to keep quiet about the One they were so enthused about and they were warned that to ignore such instructions would have serious consequences. The authorities were hostile and the prospects weren’t promising.
But the church didn’t panic!
They had just been told of a big problem that confronted them all and they knew the threats were to be taken seriously – after all these authorities were the same ones who had seen to it that Jesus was crucified. But there is no hint of knee-jerk reactions and the rapid drawing up of contingency plans, nor does it seem for a moment that compliance was an option that they considered. Instead they turned to prayer and they prayed seriously. Yes, and they prayed calmly and confidently too. They didn’t begin by praying about their big problem, they began by praying to their big God.
When we race in with our concerns and our anxieties they can seem to grow in size until we see nothing but our problems and our difficulties. In such circumstances we’re in danger of treating prayer as a last resort, an act of desperation. A mindset quickly develops that is akin to wishful thinking, ‘perhaps prayer might work if all else fails’ type of thinking.
But these early Christians didn’t pray like that. They began instead with God and with what they knew about their God. They may not have been Christian believers for a long period of time but they had a well-developed theology of who God actually was and what he was like. Is our theology anything like theirs? I hope it is.
Look at just how they began to pray:
“Sovereign Lord” they prayed.
The One they were praying to was God and it was their God who was in total and complete charge. Our God is not some kind of “God-of-the-gaps” who can only operate in an increasingly narrow range of circumstances. No! He is the Supreme Ruler over all that there is. This is how the Psalmist put it:
Ps.115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
Ps.135:6 “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”
This means that our God is not inhibited or frustrated by anyone however arrogant the opponent might be. Indeed, as the passage goes on here in Acts 4 to affirm, he even uses this very opposition as a means of accomplishing what he has already determined will take place.
The God these Christians so calmly addressed is no weak deity who has to go cap in hand as it were to men waiting for their permission before he can act. No, he is God, the One True Living God. He is the God that we all have to deal with and he is unfettered by anything outside of himself. His power and authority are unlimited and he does all he wants to do. His own character assures us that all he does is well thought out and beyond criticism. He has his plan and that plan is good, holy and upright.
Theologians refer to way in which God carries out his plan as the decrees of God. They mean that God does everything necessary to secure the fulfilment of his plan which ultimately is to promote his own glory and that includes his foreordaining of everything that happens.
The Westminster Catechism answers the question as to how God carries out his decrees with a straightforward and comprehensive answer:
“God carries out his decrees in creation and in providence.”
Long before that catechism was ever written Christians already knew the truth it expressed for that is just what drove the prayers of those early Christians recorded as it is in Acts 4.
Beginning with the Sovereign God these Christians went on to highlight as they prayed that their God was:
· The God of creation
· The God who announced what was to be brought about before it happened
· The God who used the free acts of men to serve and forward what he, and not they, had planned
As these Christians prayed they didn’t merely recognise that it was God who determined what would come to pass they also recognised how foolish and ineffective it was to try to oppose God, his purposes and his plan. The worst efforts of men would merely serve to propel the fulfilment of the Sovereign God’s plan even if that was the last thing those men had on their mind.
Do you now see why these Christians can pray with such calm confidence? They knew their God and they hadn’t shrunk him down out of all recognition. Let me ask you, is your God as big as theirs? How big and important is your God?
If you do not realise that he is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the One who works all things according to the counsel of his own will, then you will be shaken and intimidated by the events that appear to be spiralling out of control in our world. But rest assured, nothing has ever escaped his control and nothing ever will!
There was of course a time when the disciples did think that things had got out of control. They had seen Jesus rejected by his own people and destroyed by an unlikely coalition of former enemies as Pilate, Herod and the leaders of the Jewish nation came together clamouring for his death. God’s Messiah was lifted up and left hanging as a God-cursed criminal on a cross. How could this be? It all seemed so dark and impossible to them.
And then the light shone again! It shone into their lives as Jesus was raised from the dead. He showed them that everything had taken place just as God had said it would – it was God’s plan that was being fulfilled all along and not that of mere men.
God the Sovereign ruler had his plan and his plan centred on sending his Son into the world to be its Saviour. But the only way that Jesus could be the Saviour of the World was by his dying in the place of sinners paying the penalty of their sin and so dealing with that immense problem that separated God from men and women.
Many didn’t understand, let alone approve of, God’s plan. Instead of welcoming Jesus as the Saviour they preferred to get rid of him. Former enemies became allies in their efforts to eliminate that awkward prophet from Nazareth but all their efforts secured was an unwitting fulfilment of God’s eternal plan. They meant harm but God meant it for good – the good of sinners who would have their sins forgiven and for his own glory as his love and merciful grace were openly demonstrated and made available to those who would receive.
The Christians prayed knowing who their God was, what he was like and what he had done in Jesus and this knowledge gave them great confidence and hope for the future.
It was all so good, so wonderfully good. Others must be told, others must hear, this good news must be shared – and so they prayed on. The situation was serious and the opposition real and powerful: courage and boldness would be needed if they were indeed to be able to share the good news of Jesus. So they prayed for the boldness they knew they would need.
But they didn’t only pray for boldness to share this good news they also prayed that their sharing of the good news about Jesus would be successful and that was dependent upon God also being actively at work alongside them. So they prayed for God to accompany their testimony with works of power carried out in the name of Jesus.
Let us imitate them in this. Let us pray for boldness to speak out for Jesus and let us pray that God will be at work to render his word effective in the lives of those who hear.
Well, finally the time of prayer came to an end. This was no vague atmosphere of wishful thinking – serious prayer was confidently brought to the Sovereign ruler and when it had been made it was now in God’s hands.
They didn’t have long to wait to find out.
The building was shaken. It was a sign that God had both heard and approved their prayer and was answering in the affirmative. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and he enabled them to retain their focus, to maintain their commitment and to keep their courage up.
And so they:
· Continued to speak the word of God with boldness
That is they went on and on telling the people about Jesus:
o Who he was
o What he had taught
o How he had been nailed to a cross
o For what purpose he had died there
o How he had been raised from the dead
o And how after ascending to heaven he was sat at the right hand of God in the place of authority honour and power
· And they called on men and women to believe in this Lord Jesus Christ and so to be saved.
What have you done with your knowledge of Jesus? He is described here in these verses as the anointed of the Lord and as the Lord’s holy servant. Jesus Christ came into the world not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Has he paid for your ransom? His sacrifice is sufficient and will meet your need but you must call on the name of the Lord to be saved. Oh do so today if you haven’t already and if you have let others know the good news that has saved you.
And to God alone be the glory.